Review – Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

If you haven’t seen it, don’t read it.  This one comes by a bit of special request, so as I finally get over my illness that has taken up most of the last week of my Break, here we go …

The <s>Rebels</s> Resistance are on the run from their base where we left them at the end of Episode VII.   They are small in number, trying to get the word out for help in the wake of the destruction of the Republic’s government.  The <s>Empire</s> First Order has a new ship .. a Dreadnought (from the French for “bad ass ship that vaporizes everything with basically one shot”).  Poe Dameron and BB-8 in their X-wing managed to comically hold off the Dreadnaught to buy critical time for the evacuation.  General Leia Organa (Carrie Fischer, for the last time) orders Dameron back, as he takes out the anti-fighter cannons on the dreadnaught, and Resistance bombers go in for the attack.  The attack succeeds in taking out the Dreadnaught, but it costs the Resistance every one of their bombers.  Dameron gets busted down in rank by Leia for reckless behavior.  The Resistance <s>warps</s> jumps away into hyperspace.

Meanwhile … on the distant planet Ahch-To …

… Luke accepts the light saber from Rey, and throws it over the edge of the cliff for Rey to get later.  Rey informs Luke that she is there on behalf of his sister to bring him back to the Resistance to spark support needed support.  Luke wants nothing to do with her, and won’t even communicate with her until Chewbacca, literally, smashes down his door, and warms up Luke … prompting the sad question “Where’s Han?”.

Luke and Rey get off to a rocky start, but Luke finally volunteers a few lessons.  It turns out the tiny island he is on is an early Jedi temple, and contains some of the first Jedi texts.  Luke tells Rey that Kylo Ren had been one of his students, and that he saw a dark corruption growing in him.  One night, he confronted Kylo, and Kylo turned on him, killing some of the students, and taking others with him.  He also explains that he has learned that the Jedi order was horribly misguided … that while they were good, they were also blind and arrogant, and not really about finding balance.

… Meanwhile the Resistance fleet has hit a problem.  Despite making jumps into hyperspace, the First Order fleet is somehow tracking them and following them, and have picked up a new dreadnaught.  Oh … and they are running low on fuel.  They decided to keep going without jumping to hyperspace, keeping just out of firing range as much as possible.  During the attempt to get away, Leia is seriously hurt and Admiral Ackbar is killed (moment of silence), and is replaced by Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).  Poe doesn’t trust her, and he, Finn, and another worker named Rose hatch a plan to escape to find a master code breaker who will help get them onto the Dreadnaught, and de-activate the tracking device tracking the Resistance fleet … but they need to get there and back before the fleet runs out of fuel.

… Rey has begun to mentally connect with Kylo, and Kylo gives her a different story.  Luke confirms to Rey that he had lied to her.  He had not gone to Kylo that night to confront him about the growing darkness he had sensed …. instead, sensing that Kylo had been corrupted with Snoke’s darkness, Luke went to kill him. While Luke changed his mind, Kylo awoke and was only defending himself when he attacked Luke.  Rey cannot believe this, and decides to leave.  She and Chewbacca leave Luke alone,and Luke is convinced that it is time for the Jedi order to finally end.  The force ghost of Master Yoda appears, and agrees with Luke, lecturing him that he too has been arrogant by not growing from his failure.  On the way back to the fleet, Rey decides that she can redeem Kylo Ren, and takes an escape pod from the Millennium Falcon to Kylo’s dreadnaught, just at about the time that Poe, Finn, Rose, and their code breaker are arriving to shut down the tracker.

Kylo takes Rey before Snoke, where Snoke reveals that he has manipulated Kylo to make it easier to entice Rey to come so that she can work for them now.  She won’t have this, and Snoke begins to torture her.  In return, Kylo kills Snoke, and Rey and Snoke kill his guards.  Kylo asks Rey to join him to rule the galaxy.  She asks him to join her.  They both refuse, but not before we learn about Rey’s parents from Kylo … that Rey knew all along her parents were alcoholic nobodys who sold her into slavery to get drinking money … a memory she had suppressed but that Kylo had recovered during their mental contact.  They fight over Rey’s light saber (actually Annakin’s and Luke’s light saber), and it is destroyed, but Kylo is knocked out as Rey escapes.

The Resistance Fleet is being thinned out, and Admiral Holdo decides to abandon the last ship by loading everyone onto escape ships that can’t be detected by the First Order, to land on a nearby planet that has an abandoned Rebel Base.  Holdo elects to stay behind and keep the attention of the First Order fleet.

Finn, Poe, Rose, and their code breaker sneak aboard the Dreadnaught, and get to the tracking system before they are caught, and the code breaker turns on them, negotiating his release by offering the First Order a way to track the Resistance escape craft.

As the First Order begins attacking the escape craft, Admiral Holdo uses the last of her fuel to jump right through the Dreadnaught, breaking the ship and destroying most of the rest of the First Order fleet.  In the chaos, Rey, Finn, Rose, and Poe escape to the planet.

Kylo Ren is now the Supreme Leader of the First Order, and he orders a ground assault on the Resistance base to kill them all as the Resistance attempts to send a signal rallying others to their cause.  As the First Order forces land and begin attacking, Luke appears at the base, and walks out alone calling out Kylo Ren.  Ren comes forward and the two battle as Luke buys time for the Resistance to escape one more time.  Eventually, Ren runs his light saber through Luke … and nothing happens.  Kylo is shocked!  Kylo stabs him again, but finds he is only a force projection.

Back on Ahch-To, Luke is expending tremendous power to project himself across the galaxy.  As his image disappears in front of Kylo Ren, the real Luke is clearly stressed, and looks to the horizon at a pair of setting suns … much like on his native Tattoine.  We then see Luke vanish as his cloak drops to the ground.  Luke Skywalker is dead.

The Resistance escapes, but all seems dark.  Leia says that they have all they need to continue … as Rey discovers that Luke had placed the Jedi texts in the Millennium Falcon before they left.

Roll credits.

 

My first impression is that Last Jedi is at the very least a different kind of film with a different kind of feel from other Star Wars films.  As more than a few people pointed out, Force Awakens had a main plot that was largely borrowed from New Hope and Return of the Jedi.  While certain elements were clearly borrowed from Empire Strikes Back, this was something new.

That all said, I felt that this was a bit of a messy film.  Maybe some of this gets cleaned up in the last chapter, and I’m willing to, for the moment, allow that to go. but after watching the film was I was kind of left with asking myself “What was the point here?”

The central plot, the idea of the Resistance fleet slow running from the First Order fleet, just bordered on the silly!  I’ll accept that the smaller Resistance ships could go a little faster (even though they couldn’t get much further away after hours of running), but it seems that the First Order could jump some ships ahead of them and wiped them out.  This just didn’t seem to make sense, and no real explanations were given.

I had read an interview that Mark Hamill had strongly disagreed with how his character had been written, and I couldn’t agree with him more!   Luke came across as an old coot.  I totally get that he had lost his confidence, but his reaction to Rey was just foolish!  He saw what happened when people like him weren’t careful when a highly force sensitive individual … so what is he thinking about taking such an individual and turning her loose on the galaxy without any guidance whatsoever … especially one who is kind of in the same position he was (known to the bad guys as being a force sensitive individual, and is going against them) … they either end up dead or turned!  Not once did Luke say “hey, sorry, but at this point you either need to permanently lay low, and here’s why”.  He was really taking a senile coward’s approach.  I am hoping that we will see Luke as a force ghost in the last film, but if this was the final appearance of Luke Skywalker … he kind of went out in a really poor way!

While you can’t have it all, Finn got underused, and Poe Dameron got swatted around a bit by his superiors … we’ll call that “maturing” to try and think positive thoughts!

Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), who I thought was one of the great characters from the last film, makes a brief appearance in this film, but we need to see more of her, AND we need an answer to how she got Luke/Annakin’s light saber in the first place!!  This is a character with a whole lot of backstory that needs to come out!

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was in how Rey was handled.  Daisy Ridley continues to do a great job portraying the character, but it seems like the writing left a lot out.  Empire Strikes Back spent a great deal of time on Luke’s training.  Rey’s limited training is GREATLY glossed over in this film.  We really don’t see the character mature much, and by film’s end, she is a bit stronger, but we still have a largely untrained jedi who seems perhaps even more broken than before.  Maybe this was done to prevent too much or a parallel between her character and Luke in the original trilogy.  Still, I, like so many other fans, was really looking forward to seeing Luke become the teacher and Rey as his student, and that did not really happen.

The character of Rose was a nice addition, and has a nice story.  I really liked her addition, though I am worried after seeing Finn not get developed further in this film that Rose might get left behind after a great start here.  The role of Admiral Holder was another great addition, and Laura Dern did a great job with the limited material giving the character a certain mystery and concrete strength that made her performance as a graceful military leader very believable.

Yes … it was comforting to see  and hear Yoda again (Frank Oz … who else?).  In fact, Yoda may have had the best lines of the whole film.  That’s good on one hand, but it also highlights a great weakness of the film.

The cinematography was really good.  It lacks quite a bit of the great epic action scenes of the previous films, but it makes up for it in other ways.  The brief final battle on a salt plain was beautifully shot with bold colors.  I also give props for a new setting – Finn, Poe, and Rose find their code breaker in a city that is the galactic equivalent of Monaco … a remarkably high class looking city dominated by a higher class casino.  This was another really well photographed setting that was something different in terms of an exotic and otherworldly setting that all of the Star Wars films have been great at doing.

On top of that … Episode VIII managed to do something well that the entire prequel trilogy couldn’t do well.  I think one of the positive attempts Lucas made in that prequel trilogy was bringing attention to the root of evil (not money, but greed) .. that is bankers and business interests who lack heart … it is those groups who were manipulated to causing all of the problems in the prequel trilogy, but it really got lost in the mucketty-muck of the films … people moaned and complained that the start of Star Wars mythology was in fucking TRADE DISPUTES??  COMMERCIAL TREATIES!!???  The truth is, things like dishonest businesses (like the Dutch East India Company) and resource access (Iran-Iraq War, Mexican War, Japan’s invasion of China) ARE the start of problems.  In this film, their visit to the casino city, brings up the point that many of these people are the financiers and weapons manufacturers who are selling weapons to the First Order (and as we learn, also to the Resistance).  In this case, the point was more subtle and more poignant:  cut off the financing and weapons, and it is hard to fight a war (is now a good time to mention that the United States exports more weapons than any other country … and that heavy weapons exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, are at the highest rate since 1991? … sound like nations are gearing up for a fight??? Sadly, yes!)

Before wrapping up, I’ll end on this note.  Many months ago, BBC had a huge secret announcement when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the new Doctor … the first woman to play the title character in the 50+ year history of Doctor Who.  I loved the call! Most people do.  Yet, the sexist trolls have absolutely come over the walls screaming about political correctness and social justice warriors ruining EVERYTHING!  No one has said “boo” about Star Wars despite this being the current lineup:

Rey (white woman), Finn (Afro-British), Maz Kanata (Afro-Mexican woman), Leia (made her last appearance, but white woman), Admiral Holder (white woman), Rose (Vietnamese-American woman).  In fact, the only white men are the bad guys (Kylo Ren and Snoke, now dead), and Luke (now dead) and Chewbacca and C-3PO (and you don’t see none of theme under their costumes).  In a very quiet way, Star Wars became the poster child for “You can have a cast that is mostly not white males, and still hit the jackpot”).  I mean, if the galaxy is going to be diverse from an alien standpoint, it never made much sense that the human-like people were incredibly un-diverse).

 

In short, Episode VIII continues the trend of outstanding technical and artistic achievement (and like the original trilogy, a great job of casting).  The look is not a problem here, and neither is the acting.  The problem with this film seems to have been in its conceptualization.  I’m still a bit perplexed with what the point was here?  It wasn’t Rey’s training.  It wasn’t in defeating the First Order.  After Episode V, we knew Episode VI would set up a final climactic battle with Vader and Luke.  After Episode II, we knew Episode III was going to end with Annakin becoming Vader (OK, some of us knew that back in 1978).  I suppose that Kylo will have to be stopped, but there still seems to be a long way to go before we can get there, and it seems like things will need to be rushed in the last film.

 

 

 

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